Driving highlights

I had a beautiful set of days to drive a cab in the City. Sunny and 60s is the perfect weather. Above 60s and the greenhouse effect of the car windows makes it a bit too warm.

  • I picked up a woman downtown who was heading out toward one of the hospitals in the outer neighborhoods. She was in her 30s with a spunky, outgoing nature.

    We talked about work and the healthcare system. She mentioned she was on disability. A few minutes later she revealed she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in the late stages of treatment and everything was looking good. Her spirits were understandably high.

    She worked in an industry where she could have easily parted ways from a formal employment situation to become an independent contractor and would have made a great deal more money.

    Before her diagnosis she had planned on doing just that: starting her own consultancy, working 60 hour weeks, hiring a few others, making gobs of cash.

    After her ordeal she views things differently. She enjoyed the stability and flexibility offered to her by a formal employment agreement. She enjoyed the low pressure 40hrs/week work life. She enjoys going to work, working, and leaving work at work before coming home.

    I enjoyed her perspective.

  • I picked up a lady from a housing center in the Western Addition. She was heading toward a hospital in one of the neighborhoods. Her husband was in the ICU. The doctors told her he was brain dead, but she was adamantly convinced this was not the case. A few days back she went to see him and said he raised his hand to her presence and in response to prayer.

    What brought him to the hospital in the first place? This was not clear.

    The best I could gather was that he entered the ER bleeding profusely from a gunshot, knife wound, or some sort of other violent altercation. He either assaulted the ER staff outright or did not cooperate and was sedated. She was under the impression that the staff had over-sedated him which caused his current comatose state.

    I had no idea what to take away from all her fervently shared data, but the one indisputable fact was this poor lady was not in a very happy state. I expressed my condolences and wished her the best as we arrived.

  • I picked up a younger woman in the Mission around 5 or 6am Sunday morning. Given the chilly morning breeze, her clothing was nowhere near sufficient and her lady parts were prominently displayed. I took her to meet a man waiting in his car in the heart of the Bayview.
  • Weekday mornings I hunt for street hails and radio fares around my home in Nob Hill in addition to Russian Hill, Pac Heights and the Marina. On one such lap I was cruising on Hyde street and saw two young SFPD officers standing smack dab on the double yellow lines at Jackson.

    A subsequent lap or two later they were still there. I pulled up and pleasantly said, “Hey what’s up? Are you guys looking for something?”

    Keep in mind the social dynamics: I am the same age, gender and race as the officers. So, the important variable under study here is profession to profession relations.

    They both had slicked back hair. One sported name brand sunglasses molded of plastic. The sun shaded officer caustically responded, “We’re looking for traffic violations. Sir, you have a green light.” Nobody was behind me. No other moving cars were, in fact, anywhere near this intersection. Their police vehicle was parked in front of a fire hydrant.

    Wow! What hostility! I was floored. What caused this profoundly negative reaction?

    This isn’t the first time I had such negative interactions with a San Francisco police officer. A few months back I was answering a radio call on the other side of Nob Hill. A police vehicle was behind me as I approached my destination block. I turned on my hazard signals. At this point any City driver instantly knows to pass a cab as it slows to a stop. Instead, this officer stops a foot behind me and starts honking his horn. Yes, he stopped to honk his horn. A few seconds later he passes me and yells, “What’s your problem? You gotta take up the whole road?”

    Oh wait, there’s more. A long while back I picked up a bunch of Canadian guys from a downtown hotel in a vancab. They were going to a 49ers game at Monster Park. After waiting in ridiculous traffic for a half hour, we finally approached the stadium and I asked traffic officers where I should drop the passengers. They directed me forward. When we came to what appeared to be an entrance suitable for my passengers’ needs I stopped, they paid, and I let them out.

    Two officers walked up to me and one started to write me a ticket. Woah there nelly, I said, “What’s going on, officers?” They said, “You’re not allowed to drop here. You’re a dangerous traffic hazard.” This statement was obviously false. I had pulled into a parking spot out of the flow of traffic. I continued with a clear explanation of the process by which I arrived here. “I was directed here by a traffic control officer.”

    “Can’t be. You’re not supposed to drop here.”

    Thank god for my friendly Canadian passengers. The group of six lobbied strong for my safe release, corroborating the tale of a traffic officer gone wrong.

    Wow. There are some major issues here.

    A number of reactions come to mind.

    • Look, I realize that being a cop is often a thankless job. But, come on, so is being a cab driver. Why is there such a prevalent attitude that we’re on different teams, playing against each other?

      Our jobs are very similar. We both cruise the streets for hours on end, judging each and every pedestrian. Yes, our end-goals are different — cab drivers judge pedestrians for likeliness to need a cab, while police officers judge pedestrians for likeliness to be a public nuisance. Regardless, our core activity is similar. At wee hours of the morning there are pretty much only these vehicles on the street: cabs, police cars, trash trucks, and newspaper delivery vehicles.

      Cabbies and police officers serve very complementary tasks.

    • A fleet of taxi vehicles driven by professional drivers roaming your streets 24/7 can provide a significant crime deterrent for your city.

      Most streets would see very little, if any, vehicular traffic in the middle of the night if it were not for cabs crawling for fares. Haight, Polk, O’Farrell, Geary, even Mission. What an amazing crime deterrent cabs are! They are equipped with drivers constantly scanning the streets, with cell phones and cab radios, many have zone-based GPS tracking, all have in-car security cameras.

      Sure, a cabbie isn’t about to get out of his car to break up a fight, but most if not all would be willing to serve their fellow citizens and testify as a witness to a murder.

    • If the City’s mission were to deter crime, they would view cab drivers as an essential component of a crime control strategy.

      Unfortunately, crime prevention is handled by a traditional bureaucratic unit (SFPD), and like all other non-profit bureaucratic units, it serves to forward its own existence.

      How does a bureaucratic unit do this? It silos its function such that only that bureaucratic unit can provide that function. Often this siloing isn’t a real silo (for comparison, water delivery IS a real silo) but is instead gained through evolution of policy and resource control, eventually giving this bureaucratic unit an effective monopoly of this function.

      In no way whatsoever would it be in the interest of the SFPD bureaucratic unit to explore (or even acknowledge the presence of existing) crime prevention duty sharing as this could reduce potential funding to that bureaucratic unit.

      This isn’t a knock on SFPD; this is a knock on non-profit bureaucratic units, of which SFPD is one of a large and esteemed lineage. Muni comes to mind too.

    • Let’s put aside the inherent flaws of non-profit bureaucratic units and attack this from a different angle.

      In my days of higher education student affairs life as a Resident Advisor for the dorms of Indiana University, I experienced an environment that was open and often very emotionally real. (I shall point out that although the IU dorm system was a non-profit bureaucratic unit, it was part of a larger non-profit bureaucratic unit that had profit and loss responsibility — it had to pay for itself.)

      In this HESA environment RAs and residents would talk about real issues they had with each other, their Graduate Supervisors or even full-time staff and even high level managers within the bureaucratic unit. Things were vetted. Issues were addressed. Emotional and real (mission-based) progress occurred.

      Why then, in the ‘real life’ game of taxi and police officers are these issues not addressed? This is silly. It affects everyone from the officers, to the taxi drivers, to the residents of our City. Unlike RA life which lasts at most a year, these issues persist year after year.

      Maybe we could arrange some sort of work exchange program. They can try being a cab driver for a week, and we’ll be cops for a week. (We won’t get guns, but we can write them tickets.)

  • I picked up a “cigarette and candy girl” from a club one morning and took her to her home in the outer Richmond.

    We had a great conversation. She was from the Czech Republic. We talked a lot about the changing Czech identity as they joined the EU. I shared my stories of drinking with Czech women in Scotland who could drink us under the table any day of the week. We shared tales of showing up to banks in the City with fistfuls of cash to deposit in our accounts in order to cut rent checks. What must the tellers think we do? I shared my tale of paying for a dentist visit in $150 cash.

    The City has some neat folks.

  • I picked up a guy from the Castro on a weekday morning and took him to work near Pac Heights. It turned out he was a former limo driver in the City but was still involved heavily in the business. We talked a lot about the gas prices, taxi gate fee increase, and impending doom coming this winter.

    I learned some useful things: he claimed limo/black cab drivers aim to make about the same as cab drivers. In fact, he said most driving jobs in the City approach $150 for 10-hour shifts.

    As gas prices continue to rise, this cost will be squeezed at all levels, from the owners, drivers and end-users.

  • I picked up another limo driver the next morning. He had run out of gas. He was a character. We drove to his girlfriend’s Academy of Art dorm to pick up some cash, headed to a gas station to buy a canister and some fuel, and then back to his limo.

    He said that with my City knowledge I would be able to make a bunch more money driving a limo than a cab.

    “How would I get fares?” I naively asked.

    “Oh, you know, the same way you do now. You know way ahead of time if someone will hail.” (This is true.) “You just approach them and make a deal.” Okay, wow. “Of course, the best part is that you don’t have to pay gate anymore.”

    Hmm. I think I’ll stick with paying extra for a legal cab. But, thanks for the info.

  • My therapist really likes my job. Not that she wants to do it, but she likes it for me.

    She’s really intrigued by the role I play in other people’s lives. (As am I.) Do I serve as a form of therapy for others? Often, yes. Often, no.

    If people really need someone to talk to, they make that very clear, and I am there. We talk. I do an okay job pulling out their fears, sadness, anger, excitement, joy, or whatever may be lurking underneath the surface. I like that. It’s very real.

  • I consistently make the erroneous assumption that all other cab drivers are ‘lifers’, having always been and always will be a cab driver.

    Of course, this is not true. This is most clearly brought to my attention when I pick up or drop off other cab drivers from my company heading to or from work. It is fun to see who they are, why they drive a cab, and what they do with their non-cab driving time.

    Our City is blessed to have such a dynamic and diverse taxi workforce.

  • While driving Tuesday morning, I heard a great segment on KQED’s forum about Buddhism. The whole thing is worth a listen; the first 15-20 minutes are the most juicy.

    My takeaway: it is important to feel and recognize your emotions, but not let them control you. Use the energy toward a productive output.

    This is clearly represented with my cab driving. From poorly timed red lights, to grumpy customers, angry cops, dangerous drivers, low earnings, graveyard shifts, poor tippers, and crazy coworkers stealing orders, I can create an endless list of potential negative influences to bring me down, angry and frustrated. The only thing I can really control is myself and my reaction to these influences.

    Lest you be worried, most of the time the positives significantly outweigh the negatives. Life is good.

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